Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Life in atmospheric worlds: everyday knowledge and perception of weather
Location British Museum - Anthropology Library
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Sara Asu Schroer (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

How do atmospheric conditions, such as the weather, influence the lives of human and nonhuman creatures? Directing our attention away from a focus on the 'earthliness' of existence to the aerial and atmospheric will add to further rethink our place within an ever-changing world.

Long Abstract

Anthropological studies have so far paid little attention to the weather and the atmospheric conditions in which life is lived. One reason might be that atmospheric phenomena, such as weather, are difficult to grasp within existing theoretical frameworks, troubling boundaries of the material and the immaterial, time and temporality, as well as perceiver and the perceived. It is our contention that a focus on the currents of weather and the atmospheric can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of how people in different contexts experience themselves and the worlds in which they live. Contributors to this panel, then, are invited to investigate the relevance of weather in everyday life and to pay attention to how the lives of both humans and other creatures are bound up with the movements and influences of weather and atmospheric conditions. We are interested in questions of: How do people conceptualise and understand weather and atmospheric conditions? What role do kinetic, somatic and sensory factors play in the experience of weather? Can weather be understood as an object of perception? How does weather relate to particular places and practices? How might a focus on weather change our understandings of materiality and time?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Weathered art : co-creation of humans, art and weather

Author: Linda Bolsakova (University of Dundee)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the symbiotic relationship between humans and the weather by drawing on philosophical analysis and insights gained from my experience as an artist. By following the transformation of natural materials my artwork explores seasonal changes in relation to human life cycles.

Long Abstract

Humans and plants are both immersed in weather. They, like us have lived their lives and through color, shape and texture tell their stories. When working with weathered materials it is important to have a cooperative attitude and acute awareness of the senses. Through observation and interaction with weathered plants it is possible to learn about changes in life, and how the meaning or understanding of youth, for example, is present in the sprouting. Meaning, as philosophical hermeneutics well knows, is inherent in neither the perceiver nor the perceived but in the very interaction between them. Art and more broadly human creation is part of the environment and subject to its changes. They are tightly entwined: as we shape the materials available to us, we are being shaped ourselves; creations further become part of the environment and participate in this reciprocal relationship. The dichotomy of the perceived and perceiver dissipates into mutual co-creation.

The experience of weather and art has a reflexive effect where by experiencing the other, we experience ourselves. Weathered plants and artifacts also allow us to see beyond our human sphere into the global unraveling of life- a larger process of which we are a part of but not the center, like anything else that takes form.

Weather and artisanal fishing: from forecasts to creativity

Author: Francesca Marin (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Climatic conditions influence deeply artisanal fishing practices in Eastern Patagonia. I propose that weather is not only an object of perception, but also a driver of fishermen’s creativity to face perpetual change, unforeseen events and intrinsic unpredictability.

Long Abstract

Weather is a major factor in the life of fishermen. This is particularly true for low technology methods of fishing in the windy Eastern Patagonia.

After a brief description of the strong influences of climatic conditions on these fishing practices, I propose that weather is to be considered not only as a fundamental object of perception, but also as a driver of creativity to face constant change, the unforeseen and the unpredictable.

Wind is the protagonist of local fishermen conversations about weather, since it often impedes fishing. More rare but equally problematic, rains make impassable dirt roads to the beaches. Sun and warm temperatures, as well as a full moon in a clear sky, make fish rot.

These and many more threats demand fishermen to pay continuous attention to weather. They do so through a multi-sensorial observation of the environment whose changes (e.g. changing colours of seawater) allow them to perceive the weather. This perception, in turn, is fundamental to forecast the upcoming weather.

Nevertheless, there is an intrinsic dose of unpredictability to which fishermen react with creativity, to respond to unexpected conditions. Flexibility characterizes their relation with time. Daily, fishing trips are postponed or suspended as the result of personal predictions mixed with internet ones (based on weather forecast models). Flexibility is needed also to cope with seasons that are loosing their characteristics to the point that fish lifecycles are changing and boundaries between different fishing seasons are disappearing, implying the need to adjust fishing techniques, tools and markets.

Knowing in the field: how do Northern Thai farmers make sense of weather and climate change?

Authors: Chaya Vaddhanaphuti (King's College London)  email
Mike Hulme (King's College London)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographic study reveals that perception, identity and livelihood of Northern Thai farmers were bound up in and with the weather. Memories, religion, cultural and scientific knowledge influenced how the “appropriateness” of the weather conditions were interpreted, and responded accordingly.

Long Abstract

There has been growing concern about the lack of emphasis on local perception and place in human adaptation to climate change studies (Adger et al. 2013). Yet, the popular discourse of climate change, a product of scientific purification, detaches climate and its changes from situated human cultures. Following Hulme (2009; 2015), Brace and Geoghegan (2010), and Ingold's concept of the weather-world (2005; 2011), this research turns to the entanglement of landscape, humans, and weather, a change in the atmospheric conditions that can be immediately experienced, and which has always been a resource for human culture. By employing a 14-month-long ethnographic study, a focus group and a series of photo-elicitations, this research explores how fruit and glutinous rice growers of a Tai ethnicity (Kon Muang) in Nan province, Northern Thailand, who are Buddhists and animists, make sense of changes in weather through daily agricultural practices. Findings show that body comfort, emotions and movements in the fields and at home varied throughout the weather seasons. Being in harsh weather also forged farmer identity of being mentally resilient. These, together with memories of past livelihoods, crop productivity, plant and animal behaviours, and traditional and scientific weather forecast, constituted and influenced how weather conditions were interpreted in terms of their perceived "appropriateness". Apart from infrastructural adaptation, reinvention of ceremony was used as a response to repent for weather that didn't perform to expectation. These findings support the claim that farmer's life and knowledge are bound up in and with the weather and its flows.

There's something in the air: Amazon people's perceptions of atmospheric phenomena.

Author: Dan Rosengren  email

Short Abstract

Matsigenka people have no notion of ’weather’ though they have concepts for rain, wind, sunshine etc. The conceived causes for these phenomena differ radically from those of modern meteorology affecting life in ways that radically differ from how weather affects life among modernist people.

Long Abstract

Even though people in the modern West may perceive 'weather' as an obvious category of the physical world this is not a notion that is universally shared. Among, for instance, Matsigenka people, who live in the Peruvian Amazon, 'weather' as a collective category that includes various atmospheric phenomena does not exist although they are familiar with most of the meteorological events that modernist people incorporate in the category of weather, that is, the individual phenomena of, e.g., rain, wind, sunshine. In the animist world of Matsigenka people the atmospheric phenomena that according to Western notions are included within the category of 'weather' are caused by forces that is not recognized within modern meteorology which signifies that Matsigenka people relate to these phenomena in ways that radically differ from how they are experienced in the modern West. Thus, even though Matsigenka people's world is "weathered" it is so in a way that is radically distinct from the modern Western world.

In this paper I will discuss Matsigenka people's understandings of atmospheric phenomena in relation both to how it is associated with everyday practices and to modernist meteorological notions. With regard to the latter issue a prominent problem of exposition is how to make intelligible that which does not exist locally (which in this context means 'weather') in a way that does not impose a particular understanding of the world that is not part of local peoples' understandings.

Shaped by storms: The role of weather in making Shetland ponies "Shetland"

Author: Catherine Munro (University of Aberdeen )  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I will explore how certain ways of living in weather make some Shetland ponies particularly “Shetland” and consider the way breeders understand weather and landscape to encourage, shape and develop this type of pony.

Long Abstract

During my PhD fieldwork it has become apparent that relationships between people and ponies in Shetland cannot be fully appreciated without paying attention to the roles of weather.

Pony breeders who keep their animals on large expanses of hill park know where their animals will be based on weather conditions. Any deviation from the expected leads to speculation about the reasons for this: has the herd listened to the wrong pony? Is the weather about to change? Are there other unknown factors leading to their presence in the wrong place?

The ability to find good areas of shelter where there are no human-made structures is a highly valued characteristic in a Shetland pony. The breed is celebrated for being hardy, independent and intelligent, characteristics attributed to their evolution in a place with poor grazing and little shelter from year round gale force winds. Many breeders emphasise the importance of continuing to provide ponies with this type of environment to maintain these traits.

Ponies bred away from the islands, who have grown used to milder weather and indoor shelter, are often described as becoming different from island bred ponies. When ponies are bought from "south" their behaviour in weather is carefully observed and plays a significant part in deciding which ponies belong in Shetland.

In this paper I will explore how certain ways of living in weather make some Shetland ponies particularly "Shetland" and consider the way breeders understand weather and landscape to encourage, shape and develop this type of pony.

Becoming attuned to weather through yard engagements

Author: Ursula Lang (University of Glasgow)  email

Short Abstract

Spaces such as front and back gardens provide a way to understand people’s relationships to ordinary atmospheres. In this paper I draw on research with people and their yards in Minneapolis, to show how engagements with weather involve senses, labors, and affects in encountering others over time.

Long Abstract

Single family houses surrounded by front and back yards constitute some of the most ubiquitous and iconic residential landscapes across the United States. As people live with yards, often over decades, these spaces become enmeshed in everyday life. Yards also become one of the most ordinary - and arguably meaningful - places of encounter with changes in weather, season, and the lives of others. This paper draws on conceptualizations of atmospheric attunements, as well as geographies of temporality and rhythm, in order to examine everyday weather and seasons through yard engagements. Based on ethnographic research with residents and their yards in several neighborhoods in Minneapolis, MN, I present some of the diverse ways yards and the nonhuman lives within them register and signal changes in light, season, and lifetime. Yards are sites for a variety of cultivation practices - from maintenance of basic features, to the design and development of elaborate worlds comprised of human and nonhuman elements. I show how the emergent and rhythmic nature of these landscapes presents possibilities for how people live with their yards over time, in ways both predictable and surprising. Furthermore, the ways people cultivate and understand their surroundings tend to form through iteration, experimentation, and skillfulness - developed through engagements between people, plants, animals, and atmosphere. These relations and temporalities shape, and are shaped by, the biophysical and sociopolitical capacities of yard spaces. In the midst of concerns about changing climate and weather extremes, yard experiences may be understood as one key register in understanding weather encounters.

Eyes in the sky: Fire Weather Experience at Alpine Lookouts

Author: Kristen Walsh (University of Victoria)  email

Short Abstract

Attuned to passing clouds and atmospheric conditions of fire weather, fire lookout observers offer interesting perspective to explore interstices of weather, place and practices through the lens of shifting light and perception in different weather.

Long Abstract

Immersed in mountain environments for five to six months of the year, with many fire lookout observers returning for over three decades, their accumulated experience speaks to mundane weather punctuated by the extreme, fleeting moments of morning dew to the deep time affects of a windswept ridge. The weather, and wind in particular, moves lookout observers around, prompting how much time they spend inside or out in the open, also influencing the creatures they engage with: flight patterns of resident and migrating birds, the stagnation of mosquitoes on the lee side of a building or scents carried to potential predators in nearby forests. Responsible to watch for fires within a 40 km radius of their mountaintop cabin, lookout observers have sharp eyesight, a strong ability to see colours and a sound sense of depth perception. Their view is ever changing with the shifting light of the day and seasons, in which weather plays a pivotal role. Experiences of being socked-in in fog to the clear-cut visibility of a gusty day, invite a range of feelings and moods deeply entwined with the responsibilities of the lookout observer job. In this paper I explore how lookouts come to know about wind and weather through a series of practical and multi-sensory engagements, often lending to diverse creative practice. This work draws from participant observation and conversations, hiking, learning, and living with Fire Lookout Observers along the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Airborne creatures: weathering, movement and perception in falconry practice

Author: Sara Asu Schroer (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Sensing the world with and through an airborne creature draws falconers' attention to the powerful forces of the weather and the aerial currents of the world, revealing a world in constant formation in which the weather takes on material affective qualities.

Long Abstract

Falconry is a hunting practice in which humans and birds of prey learn to hunt in cooperation with each other. When training or hunting with a falcon, hawk, or eagle the birds cannot be forced to cooperate but a bond has to be established depending on a fine balance of independence and dependence. In this paper I will focus upon the ways through which falconers come to know and perceive their environments through the intimate cooperation with an airborne creature, who in so many ways perceives and acts upon the world differently to her earth bound human companion. Sensing the world with and through an airborne creature draws our attention to the powerful forces of the weather and the aerial currents of the world. The concept of weathering describes the weather as an ongoing activity that has a transformational force on how air currents and landforms interplay and co-create each other. It is further pivotal for mediating the movements of humans and other living beings that sense, perceive and experience in the midst of a weathering world. Here, air, land and water are not delineated into separated domains but co-constitute and transform each other in a constant confluence of movements. Falconers realise this and they do not usually talk about the weather divorced from practical contexts. Instead, their stories evoke rich situated descriptions set in the midst of activities of humans and nonhuman forces, emphasising a world in movement in which the weather is its ongoing effects.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.